Steven Weiner, Computer Specialist and Aesthetic Realism associate, writes:
What have selfies—so au courant—to do with philosophy—with ethics—with the biggest, most pressing matter in everyone’s life? Read “The Eternal, Lively Opposites—& the Selfie,” the amazing and very much needed new issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known!
The commentary by Ellen Reiss begins:
Dear Unknown Friends:
Here is the conclusion of Eli Siegel’s wonderful 1964 lecture The Infinite & the Finite & Their Disguises. We’re in the midst of the philosophic basis of Aesthetic Realism, described in the principle “The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.” In this talk, with logic, humor, depth, vividness, Mr. Siegel is speaking about a pair of opposites that are seemingly abstract, unrelated to life as we live it: the infinite and finite. And he’s showing that these are akin to opposites people are affected by every day—also confused and distressed by: for instance, being separate and being joined; what’s superficial and what’s deep; artifice and what’s natural.
Mr. Siegel is reading passages from Duncan Phillips’ The Enchantment of Art. They’re passages in which Phillips condemns the 18th-century approach to art as going for the artificial and the surfaces of things. And Mr. Siegel speaks of the 18th-century painter Jean-Antoine Watteau, speaks of him briefly but greatly, with powerful new seeing, in prose sentences that are themselves beautiful.
Always, Self & World
To precede that discussion, I’m going to comment a little on something that’s very much of our time and offhand seems far away from philosophy: the selfie. Last month, an article on Yahoo News asked in its headline, “Why Are People Willing to Risk Death for a Selfie?” The article reported:
In late May, a 21-year-old college student fell to her death after climbing over a retaining wall while taking photos on the top of a scenic cliff in Oregon….Selfies have led to people falling off of buildings, drowning in rivers and even being electrocuted.
The selfie, so popular, is a means of looking at what Aesthetic Realism shows to be the biggest matter in the life of everyone, in any century. This matter concerns opposites with us every moment: self and world; or I and everything not I; or here, what’s in me, and there, what’s outside of me. In his book Self and World, Mr. Siegel explains:
We all of us start with a here, ever so snug and ever so immediate. And this here is surrounded strangely, endlessly, by a there. We are always meeting this there: in other words, we are always meeting what is not ourselves, and we have to do something about it. We have to be ourselves, and give to this great and diversified there, which is not ourselves, what it deserves. [P. 91]
Our very lives, our pride or shame, our intelligence or foolishness, our kindness or cruelty, depend on whether we’re trying honestly to put these philosophic and pulsatingly immediate opposites together. Do we have the purpose which impels a true artist in any medium—to be our own expressive self, take care of that self, by being fair to the subject we’re dealing with and the world it stands for? Or do we have that purpose which is contempt: to get an “addition to self through the lessening of something else”? Contempt pits the opposites of self and world against each other, and Aesthetic Realism identifies contempt as the most hurtful thing in every human being.
And So—the Selfie
Taking a picture of yourself with a mobile device and perhaps posting it online, is a situation of self and world, just as every situation of life is—whether it’s reading a book, eating a sandwich, kissing someone. A selfie taken amid certain scenery is obviously a relation of self and world. The desire to take such a picture can be in keeping with humanity’s deepest hope: to affirm one’s relation to the world. You take a picture of a cliff and yourself near the cliff, and it’s: I have to do with this! This has to do with me! And I want to be fair to it. Yet just as you can want to own a person you may kiss—use him or her to see yourself as adored and not want to understand that person—so you may want to own instances, perhaps stunning instances, of the geographic world; that is, use the world as a backdrop to your own importance….Read more